Vijayanagar empire: economic administration

In this article the following topics will be covered:

  • sources of revenue 
  • trade 
  • temples
  • guils and professional bodies 

Sources of income in the Vijayanagar empire:

o   Land tax – The most important of the sources of revenue was the land tax which still continues to be the mainstay of Indian finance. the principle followed by the Vijayanagar kings with regard to the assessment varied with the crop raised on a particular piece of land and the part of the empire where the crop was raised, for the assessment depended on the locality and fertility of the soil.

o   Tax on property – There are inscriptions which mention the property tax but do not give the rates of assessment. Among them were the taxes on adapputtalav (small doorways), the hidden treasure, underground stores, etc., uttaipattam (springs), houses of priests and other sacred buildings, vasalpanam, manaikuli, horses, bullocks, etc., sheep, carts, and coconut trees.

o   Commercial tax – Duties on trade and commercial transactions contributed a large share to the state revenues. The customs and octroi duties were levied both on land and water transports, at fixed rates. Further, inscriptions mention the opening of new fairs which brought revenue to the government.

o   Profession – Taxes on professions contributed a fair share to the state revenues. The principle that underlay the levy of this tax does not seem to have been to tax the income derived by a person exercising a profession, but to levy a tax on him as he was born in a particular community or caste and thus was exercising or was expected to exercise a particular profession.

o   Taxes on industries – Under the Vijayanagar kings all the in dustries were taxed. The basis of taxation in this case was the net profit expected from running an industry by the proprietor. It was on this principle that a few owners of industries were taxed. It may be mentioned here incidentally that by industries we do mean the large factories we see in the modern day, but only the cottage industries, each of which gave occupation only to one or two individuals.

o   Military contributions – For the maintenance of the army and the forts in the empire certain taxes were imposed on the people. Such were the dalavili (military contribution), and dannayakasvāmya, the dannayakarmagamai (contributions to the military commander), padaikkanikkai (contribution made for the maintenance of the army) and the sanaya (senaya) perhaps also a tax paid for the maintenance of the army. For the maintenance of the forts in the locality a köṭṭai magamai (contri bution to the fort) was collected. An impost was levied for the defence of the conquered coun try. There were three other taxes that were collected from the people known as the pattayakanikkai, the vilvari and the silavari. The first was a contribution for the sword, or army. Perhaps it was either a contribution levied by the government for the maintenance of the army or more probably a license fee for possessing a sword. The second was probably a license fee for owning a bow, while the third also was probably a license fee for owning a trident.

o   Social and communal taxes – A few social contributions were collected from the people and their organizations. These contributions were either collected by the government and added on to their own other revenues, or given over to the public and social institutions like temples or schools. A few of them were levied by the local authorities for the benefit of certain communities.

o   Judicial fines and such other income – Fines formed part of the state revenues. They were imposed for faults, annoyances, theft, adultery and injustice. Besides there was a pound fee levied on stray cattle, and collected by the government. In addition, tributes were collected “on account of danda.

o   Miscellaneous items of income – In addition to the above dues in the shape of coins, grains, and services to the government, or the local magnate who was the renter for the government revenues, there were a large number of dues generally customary which were demanded from the people. These are of a miscellaneous character demanded in the shape of coins, grains or services and cannot be brought under any of the above heads.

Trade in the Vijayanagar kingdom:

 The foreign goods that were in demand may be classified under some broad heads:

o   Necessaries of the Government –

  1. In this class may be mentioned gold and silver that were imported from outside. Though some quantity of gold was mined in the country itself, much was imported for purposes of coinage and display among the royalty. Gold was imported into India from Aden, Melinde, Berbera in Africa and from China. Silver was imported from the East also.
  2. There was great demand by the Government for elephants and horses which played an important part both in the wars of the period and in the royal para phernalia. The countries which supplied elephants were Ceylon and Pegu.

o   Raw and finished materials –

  1. Among the different raw products that were imported were spices like cloves, cardamom and cinnamon which came from Sumatra, Molucous and Ceylon. They were in large demand on account of their better quality as compared with those produced in the country.” Malacca, Borneo, China and Bengal exported to the Coromandel in Moorish ships many kinds of spices and drugs among which were aloe wood, camphor, frankincense, etc.
  2. Finished articles like brassware from China were in demand by the Muslims. Good varieties of scarlet cloth, camlets, taffetas and silk were imported at Calicut from Jedda, Aden and other places. Silk was imported from China also. Among the articles of merchandise that went every year from Goa to Vijayanagar, were velvets, damasks and sathens, armesino or Portugal and pieces of China. Velvets came from Mecca also.

o   Luxuries – The articles of luxury that wore imported into the country were precious stones which were in great demand by the royalty and nobility. Though some kinds of pearl were produced in the country itself, several special varieties were imported from outside. Among them were precious stones brought for sale from Pegu, Ceylon and Ormuz, as also pearls and seed pearls.


The articles that were exported from the country may be grouped under three broad heads:

o   Food products, spices and drugs – The most important food product that was exported to foreign countries was rice. It was available at Melinde, Aden, Ormuz and other places on the west and Ceylon in the south and was generally of the black variety which was comparatively cheap. The next important article that was exported was sugar of the powdered variety. The exports other than food stuff were the spices and drugs which were in great demand in foreign countries in the west and the east.

o   Metals – The important metal that was exported to foreign places like Ormuz from Bhatkal was iron. Among the precious stones that were exported to foreign countries like Arabia were carnelian, cats’eye, garnet, pearls, rubies, sapphires, giagonzas, amethysta, topazes, chrysolites and hyacinths.

o   Manufactured goods – The finished products that were exported from the country to Ormuz and other places were cotton cloths and porcelain articles. The Portuguese bought cloth from the Vijayanagar merchants at Ankola and Honavar. Pulicat and Mylapore exported a large quantity of printed cloth to Malacca, Pegu and Sumatra.

Temples of the Vijayanagar empire:

The temple was a wealthy institution on which depended a large number of persons belonging to different professions; it was a landlord, engaged labor and cultivated lands, besides encouraging rural activities like extension of cultivation and rehabilitation of villages. It was a huge consumer and purchased various articles for purposes of carrying on worship in temple. The temple treasury was a bank, lending money to the people during times of need. It was a great promoter of rural industries like handicrafts and afforded employment to the poor.

From the economic point of view the temple was a big landlord owning vast properties in land, got by gifts made by pious individuals and by purchases made by the trustees with the surplus funds available. The temple cultivated the lands with the help of tenants whose interests from outside encroachment it protected.

In a large number of cases the temple treasury served as a bank and lent money to the people when they were badly in need of it. When the temple authorities were not able to realise the amount they had lent, they purchased the lands of the debtor to the extent necessary to get back the amount.

The temple was one of the institutions that provided work for a good number of persons and maintained them. The management of the temple was in the hands of either an invidual or a group of persons known as sthanaltar who administered the temple properties, controlled the temple servants and carefully guarded the interests of the temple. Among the servants of the temple were the köyilkelei (generally manager of the temple) and the köyilkawakku or olailuttu (temple accountant), meykävul (general watchman), arai kamal (superintendent of stores), pabanddaram (treasuror), tiruvilakkukkudi (servants in charge of lighting)”, and the temple priest. Among the other employees were the pipers, drummers, singers, conch-blowers, parasol-boarers, gardeners and many others about whom howover we have no detailed contemporary description.

Guilds and Professional Bodies of the Vijayanagar empire

A very important feature of the economic organization of the town was the constitution of a guild. It was usually & community of interest that brought into existence the guild; and its members were anxious to promote their common interests. Every guild was a local organization, though occasionally there were also extraterritorial ones. Another striking feature of the guild system was the fact that its members belonged to a religious scot. This adherence to a particular religious oread was a great unifying factor in the mediaeval guild organization.

According to contemporary evidence there were two kinds of guilds, the oraft-guild and the merchant-guild. The former was a professional association, based on the caste system. Each group of workmen, following a particular, profession and belonging to a community, formed a guild. Thus, heredity formed a notable part in it; an artisan’s son was usually an artisan. But if a member of a community should change his profession and take to the profession of some other community then he became a member of the guild of the latter community.

Among the important craft-guilds were those of the Vira Pañicalas (who consisted of the goldsmiths, blacksmiths, brass-smiths, carpenters and idol-makers), weavers, potters, cloth dyers, oil millers, shoemakers, tailors, shepherds, cowherds, hunters, washermen, barbers and a few others. There was much discipline among their members. Perhaps more important than the craft guilds were the merchant guilds, which played a very conspicuous part in the commercial life of the country. It appears there were different groups of people engaged in trade, which made them organise into different guilds in the Empire.

Originally the merchant guilds appear to have been private organizations; but gradually they gained public recognition. These guilds exercised powerful influence over the royal court. It was not unusual for them to make petition to the government to do a particular thing and it was done. The guilds enjoyed the right to confer honors on persons of position.

The guilds were also known as Nagar altars or Cettis. They had each a leader who exercised some control over the working of the organization and was known in the Kanarese and Telugu districts as the Puttanasami or Cetti.


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